5 Mistakes You Don't Want to Make on Your Medical School Application


In medicine the term “red flag” has been adopted to suggest an early warning sign for something sinister or life threatening. When reviewing medical school applications, “red flags” are also used to predict a bad outcome. With experience screening thousands of applications it becomes easy to pick up on “red flags” that may be harbingers of a difficult or undesirable student. These “red flags” may be different depending on whose lap your application lands in; however, here is a short list of my red flags that make your application stand out in a way it shouldn’t.

1. Not following instructions. This seems pretty basic but you would be surprised at the number of applicants that do not follow simple instructions. If you can’t follow the instructions on your medical school applications you leave the reader wondering if you will be able to follow basic instructions in medical school, or even worse, when caring for patients. When completing your application make sure you READ the instructions and FOLLOW the instructions. Yes, that character limit on the secondary essays does apply to YOU. Don’t mistakenly think you are the exception to the rule. This will not make you look special...it will just make it look like you can’t follow the rules.

2. Significant gaps of unexplained time. When reviewing residency applications, I used to entertain myself by trying to guess what the applicant was doing in the 2 years that were blatantly unaccounted for on their application - usually my imagination landed on prison time. Understandably the reader’s mind will wander to the worst case scenario if you do not give them an alternate option. The fact that you fail to mention what constitutes the lapse in time makes them feel you have something to hide. It is okay to have gaps in your education or your extracurriculars as long as you explain them. It’s even okay if those gaps were due to family or emotional issues, particularly if you learned and grew from the experience and were able to recover, as this may even be an indicator of resilience or integrity. Be transparent.

3. Downward trends in performance. Starting strong and trending downward isn’t unusual when students get caught up in the distractions that come with life. Life happens. Sometimes students struggle. Unfortunately, if you have not been able to recover your grades or performance the reader has to assume you are still struggling. If there is a significant reason you are still struggling, acknowledge it, take responsibility, and highlight how you will learn from the experience and improve your performance. You may also strongly consider a post-baccalaureate program to help demonstrate you can bring your performance back up to the level required for success in medical school.

4. Inconsistencies in your personal interests. It is absolutely possible to have very diverse and broad personal interests; however, if you’ve dabbled in lots of things but committed to nothing it may reflect a lack of passion or commitment. Also, if you can’t talk intelligently or knowledgeably about the extracurricular activities you’ve mentioned in your AMCAS application and secondary essays, it may lead your interviewer to question if maybe you were just checking off boxes because you thought that is what medical school admission committees want to see. You should be genuinely interested in the activities you list on your application.

5. Last are the things that should go without saying: Lying, plagiarism, and arrogance. Lying and plagiarism should be self explanatory. Don’t do it. Also, don’t assume you won’t be caught. The one advantage to reading many applications is that it becomes easier to pick up on clues that things just seem dishonest or inconsistent. Arrogance is a little tougher to hide because some applicants do not realize they are coming off as arrogant. There is a fine line between confident and proud and being self important. If you find you are putting down others to make yourself seem important or you are presenting yourself as “the best” at something you may not be the most experienced at, you may want to rethink your strategy.

To spot these mistakes before students submit their applications, I always complete a final review of the students’ applications with whom I work. If you would like to avoid these mistakes ahead of time, sign up for a free consultation to find out how my fellow admissions experts and I can help you specifically.

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